Friday, November 02, 2007

Four different nudges

My four different children require four different types of nudges. They gravitate to many things on their own, but sometimes they get distracted, or are unaware of an interesting possibility, or suffer from traits that lead them to resist new things -- social anxieties, difficulties with transitions, perfectionism or whatever. So sometimes it's helpful, and worthwhile to them, for their parents to give them nudges. A sort of "thought this might interest you -- want to give it a try?" nudge. But each of my kids requires a different flavour of nudge.

For Erin, nudges have to be oblique and offhand. If she gets the slightest hint that something might be my idea, she'll lose interest. So if I think "A" might interest her, I might say "I was looking through such-and-such today, and really wanted to check out B, so I started looking through all the different entries, you know, the ones where they list A and C and D, and then finally I found B. " And sometimes that little passing mention of A will stick in her mind and she'll quietly investigate it later, and it'll grab her. And I have to pretend not to notice or care that she's hooked. I'm getting good at looking like I haven't noticed, so much so that it's not really pretending any more. She's interested in what she's interested in, and I don't have to watch her every move or worry or obsess or over-analyze whether stuff has "taken" or not.

Noah's nudges are very different. They're clearly parent-led and almost controlling and progress through three phases. Phase 1 is the "testing the waters" phase. I'll say something like "I think A would be pretty interesting to try sometime. What do you think?" When something is presented with no imminence and no expectations, I'll usually get a good sense of whether he thinks it would be interesting or not. If he's not interested, that's fine, but if he's interested I'll start quietly setting some stuff up, getting resources organized, setting aside time. Once things are ready, I'll say "Hey, I've got some of that stuff for A. We should get that happening." This is Phase 2, the fair-warning phase. A couple of hours is all that's necessary to prevent him from feeling blindsided, and up to a week or so is okay, but really the sooner the better, before he starts stressing over it. Then we move into Phase 3, the big nudge.

The Big Nudge for Noah goes like this: "Noah, I've got stuff for A all ready. I need you to come with me in 15 minutes, because it's time to give it a whirl." This sounds awfully parent-led for an unschooling family, but the alternative is days, weeks, months of him balking over things he actually really wants to do. With the Big Nudge he may moan a bit and roll his eyes for a minute, but he's generally smirking in a self-conscious way while he's moaning, and despite this posturing, he almost always agrees to get to work on whatever A is without any real resistance. (If there is real resistance, we won't pursue it, but that rarely happens.) Usually within 5 or 10 minutes of starting in on whatever-it-is, he is happy as a clam. Discovering Noah's periodic need for a Big Nudge has made both of us happier.

Sophie's nudges are easy. She is less spirited and intense than her older siblings, so I can be both honest and low-key with her. "Hey, I think A would really interest you. Let's give it a try sometime. Want to set some time aside tomorrow after lunch?" She may say no, or "not yet," but most often she shrugs and agrees and all is well.

And Fiona, well, with Fiona the nudges generally go the other direction. She nudges me. "Mommy, I want to do A. Why are you always forgetting I want to do A? Let's do A right after supper."

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:58 pm

    I wonder if this has anything to do with birth order. My eldest acts like Erin in terms of not wanting his autonomy violated (although he sometimes refuses to do a thing rather than risk failure), and my youngest is very like Fiona. The middle one is responsible and practical and committed, but sometimes needs a little push to "get the ball rolling".



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